By Jodi Schott
In today’s culture of instant gratification, people often equate sexual desire with a need to immediately express that desire. However, we must say to this culture: “Not so fast!” Sexual desire and its expression are not always good, not always rooted in grace. Oftentimes, unfortunately, sexual desire and expression are just lust—desire merely for the sake of desire, desire for the sake of self-gratification. For sexual expression to be healthy and good, it must be a sacrificial act of love. Love and lust are not the same thing. Giving in to desire in an uncontrollable fashion is lustful. If we know nothing else of the mystery of God and the Incarnation, then we should at least know that God loves sacrificially, unconditionally, and calls us—as beings created in His image—to love in the same way.
In this Canto, Dante remains on the terrace of Lust and witnesses souls within the fire exchange greetings and shouts, the content of which have to do with their lustful sins: ““Sodom, Gomorrah!” the new people cried; / the other, “Into the cow goes Pasiphaë / to make the bull run for his lecherous bride.”” The first cry is from those who in their life were guilty of homosexual sins. The second cry is from those who were guilty of heterosexual sins. Notice that it is heterosexual lust that is compared to the disgusting sin of Pasiphaë, the legendary queen of ancient Crete who conceived the Minotaur by mating with a bull—a sin we would think of as bestiality. What is Dante expressing here? Lust, even if it is heterosexual and therefore in some sense “normal”, is nonetheless bestial. We all have natural instincts, yet they need to be restrained. It is animalistic to give oneself up to desire without any control. This is contrary to the way God intends us as rational human beings to love. One must temper sexual desire with self-control and with reason.
In the Church and in the broader society, we are struggling with division—political, sexual, racial. The horrific actions of some against others contradicts the way we are called to live. The violent attacks made against gays and lesbians in the name of religion separate us. The tragic attacks made against one race, or religion, or any group of people, divide us. How do these modern day actions relate to Dante’s time period and experience? Are we today really that different from Dante and the people of his era? And what is it that truly matters in this life? Dante’s meditations on the vice of lust really point us to a positive virtue—the virtue of love. Dante is sending us a message. We must perfect and humanize ourselves through the virtue of love. We must love the way God intended us to love: sacrificially and unconditionally. We need to live in light of Christ’s sacrificial love for us, and aspire to be as Christ-like as we can be. Will you heed and spread this message today and all days to come?
Mrs. Jodi Schott is the Director of Faith Formation at St. Kateri Parish in Irondequoit, NY. She has a Master of Arts in Theological Studies, has worked with children, youth and families in the Roman Catholic Diocese of Rochester for ten years and enjoys teaching others about the faith. She lives with her husband and three children.